I recently had a Twitter argument with a guy who said he thinks Joburg “lacks authenticity”. I never got to the root of what he meant (Twitter isn’t the place for complex debate), but I’m glad the argument happened because it got me thinking about what “authentic Joburg” is.

My experience last Saturday afternoon, on the last day of the Joburg City Festival, illustrates what “authentic Joburg” means to me.

Ladies Gandhi Square

Weekend travelers in Gandhi Square, posing for a photo as I pulled up in a Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuk. The lady on the right was indecisive about whether to wave or cover her face.

I arrived downtown on Saturday afternoon and went to Cramer’s Coffee. I was expecting a poetry slam, but the schedule had changed and instead there would be a coffee home-brewing workshop, led by coffee superstar Matt Carter.

I was initially disappointed that I would be learning about coffee-brewing and not watching poetry. Joburg poetry is awesome. But guess what? Joburg coffee-brewing is awesome too. I had way more fun than expected. I also drank ten cups of coffee, providing me with the greatest caffeine buzz of all time.

Pouring water vacuum brewer

My favorite part of the home-brewing workshop: Matt’s demonstration of a Hario vacuum-brewing coffeemaker.

Watching pot

Waiting for the water to boil.

Coffee brewing

The vacuum-brewing process is complicated. I’ll stick with my plunger. But this was fun to watch.

As the coffee workshop wound down, a Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuk pulled up. I know Henri, the owner of Oembotu Travel, who managed the tuk-tuk service during the festival. I went out to say hello and take photos.

Henri in tuk-tuk

Henri with passengers Cheve and Sello.

“When are we taking you for a ride?” Henri asked me. I’d been meaning to ride a tuk-tuk all week and never gotten around to it. I had ridden a tuk-tuk in Melville before but never in the inner city.

Thirty minutes later I was on a tuk-tuk. As we passed through Gandhi Square, I spotted my friend Louise waiting for a bus. I asked my driver, Kondolo (sorry if I butchered your name, Kondolo), to stop. Louise hopped in and we took off toward the Fashion District.

Downtown Jozi looks completely different from a tuk-tuk than it does from a car.

Street from tuk-tuk

Saturday afternoon in Jozi.

Taxi turning

Someday I’ll write a post about the relationship between pedestrians and cars on Joburg streets. There is no such thing as pedestrian right-of-way.

The Saturday events at the Fashion Kapitol had ended by the time we arrived. But the trip was worth it, just for the ride.

Tuk-tuk in Fashion District

Our chariot, parked outside the Fashion Kapitol. The Joburg Squirrel tuk-tuks were a special service put in place specifically for the Joburg City Festival. Hopefully the idea catches on and becomes permanent. 

We rode back to Gandhi Square to watch the Jozi Streetball championship — another festival event I’d been trying to catch all week but kept missing. I’m glad I saw the final game.

Soccer game

Street soccer in Joburg’s biggest public square. So cool. The championship game pitted the Penthouse Scorpions against The Other Guys.

Soccer running

I hate to sound like a mom, but shouldn’t these guys be wearing knee pads? Falling on this pavement must hurt.

Blue shoes

The guy in the turquoise shoes was the star of the Penthouse Scorpions. His footwork was amazing.

The Penthouse Scorpions were decisive victors, steamrolling The Other Guys 13-2.

winning team sm

The Penthouse Scorpions show off their new Puma kit and the R5000 ($500) prize money.

After the streetball championship Louise and I walked to the Reef Hotel, hoping to catch a fashion show that was scheduled to happen there. The fashion show was a couple of hours late (this is Africa), but we found something equally exciting: a luxury cupcake exhibition.

Cupcake in box

Behold: The “Aunt Sylvia”, created by Nicola Ontong of Buttercup Baby. “A vanilla-bean cupcake with a luxury lemon-infused mascarpone cream. Complete with Norwegian salmon, black caviar, a French chive, and a skewered lemon wedge for drizzling.”

A cupcake with glitter-dusted salmon, caviar, and a lemon wedge for drizzling?! Yes. Please.

Heather and cupcake

Ready to eat. (Photo: Louise Whitworth)

Heather eating cupcake

There it goes. (Photo: Louise Whitworth)

I loved the Aunt Sylvia, especially the cake and the mascarpone icing. It was indeed the most luxurious cupcake I’ve ever eaten. The salmon and caviar freaked me out a little though. (And I preferred the decadent chocolate cupcake that Nicola gave me to take home.) That said, I would eat the Aunt Sylvia again, simply for the experience.


Buttercup Baby cupcakes sell for R35 ($3.50), presented in individual plastic boxes. Worth the price, especially when you add Nicola’s personality to the mix.

What a great afternoon. I was buzzing when I got home, and not just from all the caffeine and sugar. It was the Jozi authenticity.

Browse all of my Joburg City Festival posts.

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